Gone With The Wind: Little Known Facts About the Historical Epic
It’s the most successful box office hit of all time, with some of the most iconic performances and catchphrases ever to dazzle the silver screen. Eight decades after it captured cinemas, hearts, and imaginations, the cultural impact of Gone With The Wind is still staggering.
Learn more about the complex process behind the scenes of this extravagant piece of history, and the men and women who made it shine. Get ready to smell the magnolia, hear the swish of those massive hoop skirts, and even revisit Clark Gable’s infamous expletive. It’s time to explore the world of Gone With The Wind!
Wait For Me!
What would Gone With The Wind have been without its inspired and bold performance from its lead, Vivien Leigh? Believe it or not, directors and producers began shooting the film even before they had settled on an actress to play Scarlett O’Hara!
Producer David O. Selznick’s highly-publicized search for Scarlett generated tons of buzz. As her character was already well-known from Margaret Mitchell’s book, casting calls drew some of the biggest names in late 1930s Hollywood. By the time Leigh had signed on, filming had already started a month before.
The Crying Game
These days, male actors in Hollywood blockbusters have no problem showing their feelings and defying traditional conceptions of masculinity. That was most certainly not the case for Clark Gable. 1930s Hollywood wanted its men to be sturdy and dashing, not emotional.
Rhett Butler is supposed to be visibly distraught upon learning Scarlett has miscarried after dodging him and falling down the stairs. But Clark Gable objected, and had to be convinced that crying on screen wouldn’t hurt his image. Two separate versions of the scene were filmed, just in case.
Hattie McDaniel is more than an actress. She’s an incredibly important piece of American history. For her, performing in Gone With The Wind was far more personal than viewers may realize. The Civil War and its repercussions deeply factored into her family background.
How many cast members could claim that their own parent was a Civil War soldier? Hattie McDaniel could. Her father, Henry, was a freed slave from Virginia who fought for the Union in the United States Colored Infantry, and was injured during the war. Her mother had also survived slavery.
In Living Color
The way that Gone With The Wind was shot was nothing short of earthshaking. It’s a film so lush, so vivid and vibrant that when it came time for awards season, Hollywood created an entirely new category so it could be acknowledged: color cinematography.
The Technicolor process had been around for years, but it had never been used on this scale. All seven Technicolor cameras on hand were used for the burning of Atlanta scene. Unsurprisingly, this style afforded the film yet another Oscar to snatch up.
Behind Blue Eyes
It’s incredible to think just how much effort was put into creating Gone With The Wind, particularly given what contemporary technology was at the crew’s disposal. But when it came to being true to Margaret Mitchell’s novel, one key detail would not be overlooked.
Scarlett O’Hara’s eyes are explicitly described as green, but Vivien Leigh’s eyes were blue. The solution? In post-production, frame by frame, her eye color was doctored.
How big of a Gone With The Wind fan are you? We’ll bet you never knew some of these next facts.
Too Much of a Lady
Vivien Leigh would become a two-time Oscar winner and one of Hollywood’s most elite actresses, but one thing she simply couldn’t do. In one of Gone With The Wind‘s biggest turning points, a starving Scarlett chokes when she tries to eat a rotten vegetable from pillaged fields.
At the end of the day, Vivien Leigh was through and through an English lady of respectable upbringing. She could not and would not make the choking and coughing sounds! Enter co-star Olivia de Havilland, who had to help her dub the sound into the mix.
Except for Clark Gable, all of Gone With The Wind‘s leads were British. Vivien Leigh herself had been born in India under British colonial rule. So what happened when this English rose showed up for her first script reading as Scarlett?
Naturally, she read the lines with the elocution of the Queen’s English! She was quickly corrected, but the film’s original director, George Cukor, pushed for her to stay. The producer, David O. Selznick, even wrote a letter justifying her “Englishness” as being closer to a Southerner than a Yankee.
Watch Your Mouth!
It’s become one of the most famous film quotes of all time. And, given the times, it should come as no surprise that it was a battle just to allow Rhett Butler to utter those eight legendary final words to Scarlett O’Hara — “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
Behind the scenes, producer David O. Selznick had to fight tooth and nail for months to get that one line to pass the notorious Hays Code censors. But it’s not the only time someone says it! Earlier in the film, the epithet “Damn Yankees!” can be heard at Twelve Oaks.
Let Them Eat…Bananas?
Writing Gone With The Wind‘s script was such a ludicrous ordeal that an entire play was created about it, a comedy called Moonlight and Magnolias. The screenplay went through a dizzying amount of rewrites, constantly changing hands. Even The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald was called for help.
Writer Ben Hecht was summoned to rewrite the script for a week of twenty hour writing shifts. Famously, producer David O. Selznick wouldn’t let him or director Victor Fleming leave for lunch, afraid it would slow the process. Instead, he fed them bananas and salted peanuts.
Gone with the Wind’s Towering Inferno
In easily the most epic scene in Gone With The Wind, we witness Scarlett and company fleeing the burning city of Atlanta. When seeing the ammunition explosions and the massive firestorm, one has to wonder: how did they film such a dangerous spectacle, especially in 1939?
The blaze was actually the first scene filmed, costing $25,000. It was a huge risk; if there was any mishap, the future of the film itself was in jeopardy. Old sets, including those used in King Kong, were set alight for the scene.
Learn more about Gone With The Wind — read on and see what you’ll discover!
Who Do You Think You Are?
This one’s a bit peculiar. Vivien Leigh, who won her first Oscar for Best Actress for her performance of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind, has the same genealogy as the character that she portrays. Sounds too good to be true?
It’s only partially correct, but they wanted her fans to believe otherwise. Just as Scarlett was French and Irish, it was published in studio magazines that she and Leigh amazingly shared that heritage. But it was all for publicity. Vivien Leigh was of Scottish and Irish descent.
Long Live the Leading Lady!
We’d love to know what’s in her drinking water. Starlet Olivia de Havilland, who played doe-eyed Melanie in Gone With The Wind, has not only outlived her fellow leads from the film — she has survived all but one cast member.
Born to British parents in Tokyo during World War I, this formidable actress has some incredible genetics. Just like her co-star Vivien Leigh, Olivia would go on to earn the Oscar for Best Actress, twice. At the time of writing, she is 101 years old.
The Fab Four
Gone With The Wind is dominated by its four lead characters: impetuous Scarlett O’Hara, dashing Rhett Butler, alluring Ashley Wilkes, and demure Melanie Hamilton. But did you know that there’s only one short scene in which all four of them are together at the same time?
When Rhett hauls Ashley back home in a stupor after having visited Belle Watling’s house of ill repute, Scarlett and Melanie rush to his bedside. It’s their only on-screen interaction!
Extra Extra, Read All About It!
The epic scale of Gone With The Wind meant accommodating artistic demands that were sometimes larger than life in order to fulfill the studio’s ambitions. Producer David O. Selznick found that out the hard way when he tried to shoot the scene with wounded Confederate soldiers.
Selznick was adamant that there should be no less than 2,500 extras in the scene. Problem was, the Screen Actors Guild simply didn’t have that much manpower. So how did he get around this dilemma without compromising his vision? By scattering an extra 1,000 dummies among the actors!
Double Dipping Director
Four months before Gone With The Wind opened, another magnanimous color film with vast-reaching cultural impact took cinema by storm. So what else does our favorite Southern epic have in common with The Wizard of Oz? They were directed, back to back, by the same man: Victor Fleming.
Caught between two of the biggest projects of his life, Fleming was already the second director to come on set, and when he had to tap out due to exhaustion (understandably!), the film was in jeopardy. Gone With The Wind ended up being ‘saved’ by a third director, Sam Wood.
Keep on reading — there’s way more shocking behind the scenes tidbits on your favorite Gone With The Wind actors and actresses!
“Don’t Look Back, Ashley”
Talk about a decidedly different acting style! Leslie Howard had, well, an alternative approach to playing Ashley Wilkes in Gone With The Wind, toupée and all. Despite what you might assume about a former Shakespearean stage actor, Howard was not the biggest bookworm.
Though he filled the role of one of the four leads, Leslie Howard left the research to his co-stars. That is to say, he never read Margaret Mitchell’s novel.
The Plantation Prankster
In between takes, Clark Gable enjoyed playing practical jokes on his co-stars. He and Hattie McDaniel already knew each other from having acted together in past films, so before their scene together in Gone With The Wind, he decided to have some fun.
Rhett hands Mammy a glass of whiskey — in reality, just a cup of tea. However, for the first take, Clark poured her real whiskey! Without realizing, she downed it and, surprised, started spluttering. On the second take, you can see her sniff the glass suspiciously before taking a swig.
Doing It By the Books
Vivien Leigh was anything but subtle in her mesmerizing and even melodramatic interpretation of Scarlett O’Hara, a character who had been written precisely that way. But backstage during filming, she knew how to get her message across in more subversive ways.
She often brought her personal copy of Margaret Mitchell’s novel to set, and would read from it fervently. This wasn’t just character research — it was Leigh’s way of showing director Victor Fleming that at the end of the day, it was the literature itself that called the shots.
Miss Scarlett’s Two Left Feet
She was an actress sculpted by the classics, with a posh education and a flair for elegance. She convinced millions of viewers that an Englishwoman, was worthy of playing a Southern belle. But Vivien Leigh had one little secret: she couldn’t dance to save her life.
Gone With The Wind was by no means a film that required its actors to participate in many dance numbers, but even the Confederate ball scene was a trial for Vivien Leigh. In the distant shots, that’s dancing double Sally De Marco lending a helping foot.
Patience, My Dear
The first audience to see a test run of Gone With The Wind loved it, but boy were they patient! Producer David O. Selznick surprised a sample crowd with a screening in Riverside, California in September 1939 – problem was, they’d already sat through two hours of another movie.
The audience was ecstatic to learn they would get an exclusive viewing and, committed, stayed their seats for another four and a half hours. Here’s the twist: it had an alternate ending, without Rhett Butler’s famous one-liner. That, and not the length, was what left some dissatisfied!
1930s movie stars had to be loyal to their studio. Securing ‘release’ for a rival studio’s production was nearly impossible. Actress Olivia de Havilland knew this, but she was determined to play Melanie even though Gone With The Wind wasn’t from Warner Brothers. So she designed a clever ruse.
To butter up her employers, she went around them, and took studio head Jack Warner’s wife out for tea at the iconic Los Angeles restaurant, Brown Derby. While there, she pleaded her case. Her plan succeeded! Mrs. Warner talked with her husband, and de Havilland got her wish.
Lucy Has The Last Laugh
What on Earth could Vitameatavegamin possibly have in common with Tara Plantation? Prior to her Gone With The Wind audition, a gorgeous red-headed young model and rising starlet spent six weeks with a coach practicing a Southern accent. She was none other than future comedy dynamo, Lucille Ball.
Unfortunately for Lucy, she was caught in a sudden downpour on her way to the audition, and came into producer David O. Selznick’s office absolutely soaked. She was dismissed, but managed to triumph. Decades later, she bought his production company, and moved into that same office!
He was an Austrian immigrant who’d arrived in America with just $32. His godfather was the German Romantic composer, Richard Strauss. When it came time to hire a composer for Gone With The Wind, the producer had only one man in mind for the job: Max Steiner.
Already renowned for his scoring of King Kong, Steiner worked feverishly, sometimes writing music for twenty hours straight in order to meet deadlines. It paid off: every epic needs a sweeping soundtrack, and his score has become one of the most celebrated examples of orchestral film music.
Stay tuned — there’s way more Gone With The Wind surprises ahead!
Gone From The Spotlight
Gone With The Wind‘s author, Margaret Mitchell, was famously wary of the public eye. When she received the Pulitzer Prize for her book, she hid from the press at a gospel concert. So when it was brought to the silver screen, she made it clear she would not be involved.
Regardless, she was nudged into giving her opinions during the film-making process. But Miss Margaret came prepared with a few quips to fire back — when asked by reporters who she thought should be cast as Rhett Butler, she coolly replied, “Groucho Marx”. They didn’t quite understand her sarcasm!
Twin of Steel
Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…courting Scarlett O’Hara? You’ll have to pay close attention for this one: playing half of the Tarleton twins vying for the haughty Scarlett’s hand at Tara Plantation is the original Superman actor, George Reeves.
He had to dye his hair red for the part (as did co-star Fred Crane), and Warner Brothers changed his name for the film, giving him the surname he would end up using for the rest of his career.
Fear and Phoning in Culver City
According to lore, as MGM Studios ignited old sets in order to film the torching of Atlanta, an impressed (and not yet cast!) Vivien Leigh was on set with Laurence Olivier. But in reality, nearby locals were not impressed; they were terrified!
Panicked residents of Culver City saw the 500-foot high flames, convincing them that the MGM lot was really burning down. Though the scene itself would be short, filming lasted for two hours. All the while, the Los Angeles Fire Department fielded many frantic phone calls.
Witches and Wardrobes
Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz, two of 1939’s biggest blockbusters, didn’t just share the same director. In fact, the two projects had to compete with each other for starpower. And in both cases, the fairy tale ended up beating out the war epic.
The original choice to play Aunt Pittypat turned down the part for a more sparkly hoop skirt as Glinda, the Good Witch. And who was supposed to fill the role of Careen, Scarlett O’Hara’s sister? Why, none other than Judy Garland. But obviously, she couldn’t detach herself from Dorothy.
Stars, And Stripes
Another Gone With The Wind lead who was conspicuously absent from the Atlanta premiere was Leslie Howard, who played Ashley. He had gone back home to Britain upon the outbreak of the Second World War, and would spend the next few years raising morale through patriotic films.
Clark Gable would eventually cross the Atlantic for the war effort, too, and even became an officer in the United States Air Force. He produced and narrated a film documenting pilots in the war. That’s right — Rhett Butler himself participated in five combat missions against the Nazis.
Think that’s nuts? Get ready, because there’s even more incredible facts up ahead!
Born to Act
Actress Olivia de Havilland wouldn’t become a mother for another decade after Gone With The Wind. So when Melanie had to give birth on camera, Olivia decided she couldn’t just wing it. So she dressed as a nurse and went to the delivery ward at the Los Angeles County Hospital!
But that wasn’t enough. To simulate the pain of labor contractions, the director crouched off-screen at the foot of Melanie’s bed and routinely twisted or pinched her feet to make her cry out in pain more convincingly. Now that’s dedication.
Paint It Black
Don’t judge the animal by its looks! Apparently, the actors and actresses of Gone With The Wind weren’t the only ones subject to scrutiny — even horses weren’t exempt from critique. In fact, one such horse had to have an appointment with the makeup department.
When Scarlett O’Hara escapes Atlanta, her horse is supposed to be a malnourished nag, reflecting the harsh conditions of siege warfare. But the horse brought to set was plump and healthy. The production team ‘solved’ this by painting dark shadows on its flank to look like emaciated ribs.
Clark Gable’s Lucky Break
Playing Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind was a role hotly sought after, but what about Rhett Butler? At first, producer David O. Selznick knew exactly who he wanted: a cowboy and a gentleman, actor Gary Cooper. He even wanted Cooper to switch film studios to enable his participation.
But Cooper was convinced that Gone With The Wind was destined to be a flop, and he wanted no part in it. Luckily for Clark Gable, he was next in line, and won the part that would end up becoming one of the greatest screen performances of all time.
Relics of Another World
It’s incredible to think that Gone With The Wind is coming up on eighty years old. But this next fact is guaranteed to boggle your mind: the ‘guests of honor’ at the Atlanta premiere of the film were Civil War veterans.
It’s crazy but true. Still alive in their nineties, supported by canes and assistants, several former Confederate soldiers walked up the red carpet at the gala event that even featured a replica of the Twelve Oaks Plantation.
So who’s the other surviving cast member of Gone With The Wind, you ask? His name is Mickey Kuhn, and he was just seven years old when he appeared as Ashley and Melanie’s son Beau. But he shares a unique relationship with Scarlett actress Vivien Leigh.
At the beginning of A Streetcar Named Desire, Vivien Leigh’s character Blanche DuBois gets directions from a sailor. He’s none other than Mickey Kuhn, and he bears the distinction of being the only actor to appear in the two films that won Leigh the Best Actress Oscar.
That’s not all, though — keep reading for some more incredible Gone with the Wind facts!
Don’t Kiss Me, Kate
For a great portion of Gone With The Wind, Scarlett O’Hara is constantly surrounded by suitors. In a case of art imitating life, many actresses became suitors themselves, in stiff competition for the part. But few were quite so determined as the incomparable Katharine Hepburn.
Hepburn often played tough, defiant women, which seemed to fit the job description. In an effort to convince producer David O. Selznick, she boldly declared, “I am Scarlett O’Hara!” However, she wasn’t too proud to happily serve as witness at Vivien Leigh’s wedding to Laurence Olivier.
Prissy Passes the Torch
So Prissy, Indiana Jones, and the Queen walk into a film set…really! Nearly half a century after her performance in Gone With The Wind, actress Butterfly McQueen had a supporting role in the 1986 film The Mosquito Coast, starring Hollywood royalty Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren.
This Floridian actress with the fanciful stage name would go on to lend her unforgettable voice to a comedy show broadcast on American military radio during World War II. At age 64, McQueen earned a political science degree from the City College of New York.
Hattie McDaniel, A Woman of Firsts
She beat First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s own maid to get the part of Mammy, and entered the history books. Even Los Angeles was not exempt from segregation, and while she was the first black person to be invited to the Oscars, she was made to sit in the back.
When Hattie McDaniel won Best Supporting Actress for Gone With The Wind and heroically ascended the Coconut Grove’s stage, she went from being the first black Academy Award nominee to the first black person to win an Oscar, ever. As the proverb says, she’s truly a woman of valor.
An Homage Seventy Years in the Making
Actress and comedian Mo’Nique showed up at the 2009 Academy Awards, she probably sensed she was about to win, and she took great care to plan her outfit accordingly. When she was given Best Supporting Actress, she tearfully explained her connection to Gone With The Wind.
In her acceptance speech, Mo’Nique thanked Hattie McDaniel, “for enduring all that she had to, so I would not have to”. Offstage, she explained the white magnolias in her hair: Hattie McDaniel had been adorned with the same blossoms when she won the same award, 70 years before.
Against All Odds
The road to the Oscars was an incredibly difficult one for actress Hattie McDaniel. When Gone With The Wind opened in Atlanta in December 1939, the city held three days of celebration, with an opening gala. McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen were among those not allowed to attend.
Clark Gable wanted to defy the Jim Crow laws and boycott the premiere. Though he and producer David O. Selznick tried to object, it was McDaniel herself who convinced Gable to go. In the end, however, she would be the one of them to make history.
Tara’s Glass Ceiling
This fact is uncomfortable, but there’s no tiptoeing around it. Given the unfortunate wage differences between men and women in film, how much of a discrepancy in pay do you think there was between Gone With The Wind’s two leading stars, Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh?
You won’t believe this, but for 125 days of work, Vivien Leigh was paid $25,000. Clark Gable, meanwhile, worked 71 days – and was compensated an astonishing $120,000. Some things don’t change completely, but at least the gap has become slightly less shocking.
Clark Gable could be tempestuous, Vivien Leigh quarreled constantly with director Victor Fleming. But their disagreements were tame compared to the reactions of some of their fellow cast members in Gone With The Wind . Two other lead characters positively hated the experience.
Down on his looks, Leslie Howard couldn’t stand playing Ashley, writing to his teenage daughter that he despised being made up to look attractive. But Butterfly McQueen was more forceful in her disdain. She found Prissy’s character to be backward and unintelligent, and thought the role was utterly demeaning.
Now here’s a beast of burden with both longevity and serious star power! The horse that Scarlett’s Irish papa, Gerald O’Hara, rode at Tara Plantation wasn’t just a one-trick pony. A decade after guest-starring in Gone With The Wind, the white steed won another unforgettable role.
That’s right, when Clayton Moore’s Lone Ranger galloped across the Old West in his famous self-titled television series, he rode on that very same horse. You even know him by name: Silver.
We’re not horsing around — there’s even more unusual Gone With The Wind facts up ahead!
The World Is Yours
Scriptwriter Ben Hecht is responsible for a great chunk of the script of one of the biggest productions in history, Gone With The Wind. Almost half a century later, his name would appear in the credits of yet another unbelievably famous film. Do you know which one?
Scarface! Jumping across the Georgia-Florida border, the world of Tara Plantation couldn’t be more different than Tony Montana’s Miami, but there’s a tribute to Ben Hecht at the end of the 1983 classic. The reason? Scarface was a remake, and Ben Hecht wrote the original 1932 gangster film’s script.
On Georgia’s Mind
It’s a wild guess, but it would seem like the city of Atlanta hadn’t received enough attention in the cinematic world until 1939. Why? When Gone With The Wind was released, the entire city went absolutely berserk. You won’t believe the scope of the celebrations.
In honor of the film’s opening, Georgia’s governor declared a three-day state holiday. 300,000 Georgians braved the December cold to attend the extravagant parade and premiere, and to see their favorite Hollywood stars. It was more people than there had been in Atlanta’s defense during the Civil War!
Black Or White Or Gold
Among the many awards that Gone With The Wind received, it easily nabbed the distinction of Best Picture at the 1940 Academy Awards. And many decades later, Producer David O. Selznick’s Oscar statuette was highly coveted by one of the greatest stars of all time: Michael Jackson.
The King of Pop was a big classic film enthusiast. Selznick’s Oscar went up for auction at Sotheby’s on Gone With The Wind‘s 50th anniversary, and Michael Jackson shelled out around $1.54 million dollars for it. Regrettably, since his untimely passing, the statuette has gone missing!
Better Than Vegas
Actors have to be grateful for their agents. In Clark Gable’s case, his agent not only helped him land his roles, but turned his car’s backseat into a wedding buffet table! Right in the middle of working on Gone With The Wind, Clark Gable surprised everyone, and eloped.
During a two-day break from filming, Clark Gable and comedic actress Carole Lombard escaped the press to a quick private church ceremony in the desert town of Kingman, Arizona. They then rocketed back to LA, arriving at 3AM, and held a meet and greet the next day. How exhausting!
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